This was my very blog post, written on The Star Online’s citizen’s blog nearly three years ago. It’s a response to Johor’s Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) Abdul Ghani Othman’s comments on the “abuse” of the term ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ and pointing out how UMNO politicians continue to reproduce colonial strategies to maintain racialised power. NB: The post you are about to read is (embarrassingly) polemical and has been edited to death by The Star editorial team.
Johor MB Abdul Ghani Othman tested the waters of public tolerance by announcing the evils of unifying the nation under the umbrella policy “Bangsa Malaysia” (Malaysian Race). The Johor Umno chief scoffed at the concept:
“After 49 years of independence, we should be more mature and not try to produce nebulous concepts whose origins are not clear … The concept, if subjected to abuse, can threaten national stability.”
After nearly 50 years racial bigotry still occupies the country’s seats of power.
We have adopted our former colonists’ legacy of “Divide and Conquer” and further perpetuate a separatist culture that benefits one of group of people over others by reinforcing the social constructs “Malay” and “The Others”. For 49 years these social constructs iterated in the Constitution maintained the power dynamics that favoured the Malay race. Amending the Constitution would invite “disorder”, stated the Deputy Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak.
Hishamuddin Rais, a keen and articulate observer of Malaysian politics, illustrates beautifully Umno’s obsession with the preservation of racial divides in his blog, Dari Jelebu.
Lest we forget, a unifying social construct made up of all existing ethinicities once freed Malaysian from colonisation. So the Malays’ suspicions of “The Others” is not unfounded – unified social constructs within “The Others” have the potential to replay history.
Historically, as pointed out by Hishamuddin Rais, the creation of such social constructs by the British were deeply rooted in economic greed. Today the Malay agenda is largely about figuring out ways to gain a larger share of the nation’s wealth beneath the surface of Malay pride.
It’s anyone’s guess that such a concept will threaten the Malays’ position as “The Princes of the Soil”. By implementing Bangsa Malaysia, all ethnicities will share the right to equal opportunities and create a national identity which sees that everyone stands equal before the Constitution. The Bangsa Malaysia concept is “unfair” because it will out the Malays as the economically and educationally disadvantaged race.
In fact, it is Umno’s greatest fear that Malaysia will evolve into becoming Singapore where the Malays are pushed into the margins of society. In essence Malaysia is the Malays’ final refuge and by protecting this refuge the identity of the Malays as the pivotal race is crucial.
The empowerment of this identity is evident in the superior position given to the Malay language and Islam. Take away all the symbols of Malay supremacy and they are left with nothing.
While abroad, I am ambivalent about professing myself as Malay. More often I am indeed proud of my culture and language but at the same time I find it hard to relate to other Malays who share my pride.
I hate to make distinctions based on race, and I hope that Malaysians will eventually mature and adopt a race-less outlook as well.
It is disheartening that those at the pinnacles of power are the ones fighting over the redefinitions of race while people like myself would rather see Malaysians as Malaysians.